The Yankees won a lot of games during the Joe Torre era. When you win a lot of games, you tend to default to the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” strategy for roster building. The Yankees happened to win with guys like Luis Sojo, Billy Traber, Enrique Wilson, Ruben Sierra, and Joe Torre. I could name more Torre-era mistakes, but that’s not important. It took a new manager and a loosing season for the Yankees to break old conventions and establish a smarter strategy.
The Yankees do not need a long reliever. They have five healthy starting pitchers and seven versatile relief pitchers. None of their relief pitchers are Mike Myers types – one-out guys who will put a burden on others around them. There is no reason to believe that some combination of Coke, Albaladejo, and Ramirez can’t put together 3-4 innings of relief work when a starter gets blown out in the 3rd inning.
Tomko was very tempting. His spring training performance was extraordinary. His 1.17 ERA over 15 1/3 innings with 12 strikeouts against 2 walks was as good as you could ask for him to pitch. The Yankees however looked at his greater body of work - a 4.68 ERA over 1741 major league innings, and an ERA close to 6.00 over the past two years – and realized that Tomko would be a liability in the bullpen. There is no reason for a team that is sending Mark Melancon, David Robertson, Dan Giese, Alfredo Aceves, and Phil Hughes to the minors to give a spot to a guy who will almost surely pitch below-average innings during his tenure with the Yankees.
Brett Gardner is another great example of a smart, heartless move by the Yankees. Melky Cabrera had a very good spring. He hit almost as well as Gardner, and much better in the latter half of March. He is out of options. He is an established major league player with strong ties to the team. He also plays much worse defense than Gardner and pulled off just a .301 OBP last season. Gardner is clearly the right choice, and would have been the right choice even he didn’t hit like Lou Gehrig in the grapefruit league.
The Yankees kept Joba in the rotation. They held on to Hughes and Kennedy. They held off on Johan Santana and then went out and got C.C. Sabathia. They were patient after Alex Rodriguez’s injury and went with their replacement player. Time and again, the Yankees have made the tougher decision in terms of politics, publicity, and tradition while improving their roster. The team has been outsmarted by Theo Epstein and the Red Sox management for years, but they seem to be turning it around.
The last decision, between Ramiro Pena and Angel Berroa, is not nearly as clear. I’m not sure who the player to add to the roster is. We’ve had a healthy debate here. We’ll see what the Yankees pick.